The Future of Biblical Counseling and Reconsidering Certification

ACBCI have been a hold out to certification for a long-time now. For six years now friends have been talking to me about and encouraging me to pursue certification in Biblical counseling. I have refused. Some of it has been that (sinful) rebellious streak in me that refuses to do what others are doing. I am often bent towards defiant independence. It used to manifest itself in tattoos, piercing, and clothes. It has modified some as I’ve matured, but it’s still there. I have also refused certification on other grounds, more ideological. I have been concerned about what certification says about the universality of biblical counseling. I have been concerned about what certification with a specific group says about those other godly believers outside that group. I have been adamantly opposed to some of the political posturing of competing counseling organizations that suggest you’re only a truly Biblical counselor if you align with our statements, covenants, and practices. So, I would often get asked, are you NANC or CCEF? Are you a Biblical counselor, a Nouthetic counselor, or something else? Do you follow Jay Adams, David Powlison, or someone else? The answers meant a lot to specific individuals. I had little patience for such questions or the posturing behind them. The people I cared for didn’t care about this stuff, and I couldn’t fathom why I should either. So, I held out and refused certification – despite having lots of great training. I maintain many of these convictions today, but after listening to Heath Lambert’s recent address at the ACBC national conference I have had second thoughts about certification.

Lambert gave a brilliant and inspiring address on the second day of the conference titled: The Future of Biblical Counseling in a Culture of Mental Illness. In this lecture he addressed a number of themes that are important to me: competency, accountability, and progress. I am very passionate about Biblical counseling. I have experienced its benefits in my own life and witnessed its impact on the lives of many others. I recall the first time my college mentor began talking to me about Biblical Counseling. It seemed reductionist and juvenile. It seemed highly unintelligent, unscientific, and even irresponsible. But over the years I began to watch counselors in action, began to see lives changed, began to hear better articulations of a philosophy of Biblical counseling and as a result was rebuked for not believing 1 Timothy 3:16-17. The Bible really is sufficient and effective for the diversity of problems we face. I am committed to Biblical counseling. I am also concerned for what often passes as Biblical counseling. Both poor skill among self-identified Biblical counselors, and characterizations of Biblical counseling from critics, have led to much confusion about what it actually is. But there is a massive disparity between what sometimes passes for the real thing and the real thing. I am concerned about this problem, more so as it relates to poor skill among counselors. Sometimes the criticisms of Biblical counseling are legitimate because of the incompetence of self-identified counselors. There is a desperate need, then, for greater accountability and greater training in Biblical counseling. I am highly convinced of this. That’s where Heath’s lecture began to call into question some of my assumptions and positions.

Questions began to pop into my mind as Heath talked: how do you know you’re competent in counseling? How do you know that you’re training of others is quality? How are you being held accountable for your work? Can the 1100 people you help pastor have confidence in your abilities as a counselor? Heath spoke about the Association’s primary role as that of “quality control.” The association has standards, agreed upon values, and approved practices. There is testing, supervision, and accountability built into the membership of the association. It was all very appealing to me as Heath spoke about it.

And though it is not the only Biblical counseling organization, it is respected by many. Represented among the speakers for this year’s annual conference were the heads of other Biblical counseling organizations: Robert Kellemen of The Biblical Counseling Coalition, and David Powlison of CCEF. Many of the members in attendance had also been, just the week before, in attendance at CCEF’s annual conference. The two did not seem at odds this week. Perhaps the disagreements among the various organizations are more individually driven than corporately shared. Perhaps the disagreements are more pragmatic than philosophical. Perhaps they are less heated than I perceived.

Lambert also discussed the importance of progress. The Biblical Counseling movement cannot be stagnant in our current cultural climate. We must hone our skill, and in particular, Heath argued, be on the forefront of better understanding the relationship between nature, nurture, and faith. We must be on the cutting edge of understanding how our spirituality relates to our physicality and sociality. This comment alone propelled me into deeper thinking about the importance of associations. Further research, study, and development happens best within the context of associations. Within associations research can be validated, clarified, modified, or discarded. Lambert’s lecture got me thinking again about the possibility of doing doctoral work, and what part I might be able to play in the future of Biblical counseling.

I love the local church, and I am whole-heartedly committed to it. As a result – deserved or not – I have often been very critical of and disinterested in para-church organizations. I don’t know Dr. Lambert, he came to Southern Seminary long after I was gone, but his current work in ACBC and this particular lecture have made me reevaluate my thoughts on the value of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Perhaps this is a para-church organization I can get behind. Perhaps I need to consider again certification; perhaps I need to consider again doctoral work. Perhaps. Dr. Lambert’s lecture was certainly inspiring. I don’t know what the future of Biblical counseling will look like, but I know my future involves lots of prayer and consideration of things Dr. Lambert addressed. Because I love Biblical counseling and because I love the local church, I want to take what he’s shared seriously. Maybe, just maybe, my “hold-out” has come to an end.

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